The New York Times recently released an article addressing female physique and Tennis. It was deemed by many to be scathingly inappropriate and disrespectful to Serena Williams. Rather than outright saying that the author disagreed with her body type, he chose to highlight quotes from another coach who ignorantly and proudly professed that he wanted to make sure the woman he coached remained “the smallest woman in tennis because first of all she’s a woman, and wants to be a woman”. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that this quote was obviously selected in order to paint Serena Williams as “not a woman” but with the “body of a man”. His comments continued to slight Williams when he attributes her success to her “large biceps and a mold-breaking frame, her rivals could try to emulate her physique, but most of them choose not to”. The article proceeds to pick apart her physical attributes and consistently reminds readers that, while her body brings her success, it’s not “appealing” or “normal”.
Our constant need to police the bodies of women, especially those who are involved in sports is hurtful and only contributes to stereotypes. Women who do not conform to the “conventional” beauty standards that are set for us are shamed for their differences rather than praised for their physicality and strength. Professional UFC fighter Ronda Rousey has become a spokeswoman for athletic women everywhere expressing her boredom with the cliche that states her muscles make her “manly”. She is a perfect example of a strong athletic woman who feels pride in her abilities and pride in the fact that every single part of her body is put to use. As women we are constantly seeing the media rip apart female celebrities for being too skinny, too fat, too chubby and now too “manly”. It’s hurtful for us to idolize young women who use plastic surgery to obtain their dream bodies while we put down a woman like Serena Williams who trains and dedicates her life to a game she loves.
All body types should be celebrated, and our female athletes should be praised for their athleticism and their healthy bodies rather than their “muscles and manliness”. We need to come to terms with the fact that as a society we have body dysmorphic beauty standards for female athletes, and it is inherently driven by sexism. After the Time’s article surfaced, media flooded our timelines and news outlets with pictures of Serena in tight gowns and outfits that accentuate her curves and their goal was too obvious. They wanted to paint Serena as a beautiful woman who deserves just as much praise as the Maria Sharapova’s of the world. The only problem is that this normalizes the Eurocentric characteristics of Sharapova and essentially says that Serena is beautiful despite her muscles not because of them. This unrealistic standard for bodies and beauty tells young women that even if they become President, find a cure for Aids or even win 21 Grand Slam titles, your worth is still determined by your beauty and that speaks volumes.